There is this thing that Kansas coach Bill Self will do during practices, behind the closed doors of Allen Fieldhouse, a strategy to motivate freshman forward Carlton Bragg.
When he misses a rebound, or doesn’t play big enough on defense, Self will tell Bragg, a 6-foot-9 freshman, that he has “little hands.” At this moment, we can let the record show that Bragg does not have little hands. When inspected from up close, they appear to be the size of badminton racquets.
…But Saturday’s win, which improved the Jayhawks to 15-2 and 4-1 in the Big 12, was useful in allowing Diallo and Bragg to play significant minutes. Diallo finished with nine points, nine rebounds and five blocks in 21 minutes, establishing a new career-high for playing time. Bragg put up 10 points and four boards in 16 minutes, offering a spark during the first half.
“It was a perfect day for those kids to get an opportunity to play,” Self said. “But I do think that we need to get them out there, because of a 'potential' standpoint, looking down the road, they can both do some things better than what our veterans can do.”
…“I was really impressed with the two freshmen,” said TCU coach Trent Johnson. “But then again, I think my wife could score on us in the post sometimes.”
…“You guys can see how raw (he is),” Self said of Diallo. “But you can also see how he can do some things to change a game that nobody in our program can.
"We’ve got to get him more minutes. He’s earned them. But also, it would definitely help our team down the stretch if he is a little more seasoned player. And there’s no way he can get there unless we give him a chance to work through some things.”
Carlton Bragg doesn’t know why Kansas strength coach Andrea Hudy decided to approach him in the weight room Friday during a workout. But he’s glad she did.
The Kansas freshman forward has done his best to not play timidly. It’s a hard balance to strike, though, while knowing freshmen don’t typically get many chances with coach Bill Self before getting sent to the end of the bench.
“She just said, ‘Calm down, focus in and just play with a free mind,’” Bragg said. “I took that, and today, I came out here and showed it.”
Despite the career-high in minutes on Saturday, playing time has been hard to come by for the freshman, as he's still learning the nuances of college basketball. Before Saturday, he had played just 18 minutes total in the Jayhawks' four Big 12 games and hadn’t recorded a single point since Jan. 2 against Baylor.
But despite the lack of playing time, Diallo never lost confidence or got discouraged.
“It’s not my decision; it’s coach’s decision,” Diallo said of his playing time. “Today, he called my number. I’m not going to say anything because it’s coach’s decision. Anytime he calls my name, I just go play.”
Self said Diallo had been very good in practice all week, and during last few weeks, when he wasn’t playing much, Diallo said he just continued to do what he was told.
“Just do exactly what coach tells me to do,” Diallo said. “Block shots run the floor and share the ball. That’s what I do.”
Between the pair of freshmen big men, they set career highs in four different categories. Although Bragg had been playing a bit more than Diallo in recent weeks, both guys were faced with the same challenges of inconsistent playing time. But the roommates kept each other’s spirits high, so it should come as no surprise that they both had their best game as Jayhawks’ on the same day.
“Every night we talk,” Diallo said. “That’s my roommate man. We just say that we got to play hard every day.”
On an afternoon Diallo showed a glimpse of why his basketball ceiling is considered so high, Bragg, a more advanced basketball player, showed why coach Bill Self’s confidence putting him into games seems to be on the upswing.
Bragg had a couple of moments where he spaced out instead of blocked out, but generally looked more comfortable, less in a hurry than usual. That comfort resulted in better play.
…Bragg hit mid-range jumpers and didn’t panic his way to missing bank shots close to the hoop. He made 4 of 6 field goals, both free throws, and corralled three offensive rebounds.
A defensive rebound he didn’t snag resulted in TCU a point at the free-throw line with a second left in the first half when Diallo was whistled for his second foul. Kansas coach Bill Self didn’t let that one bad play cloud the positive contributions Bragg made and put the freshman from Cleveland in the starting lineup for the second half.
“He said I have to ‘play more aggressive, be smart, that can cost us late in a game’ " Bragg said of the final play of the half. He then explained what he thought earned him the second-half start. "I was playing my role, helping the team out with my defense and just rebounding.”
Jamari Traylor had a swollen eye but no concussion after taking a shot to the face from teammate Cheick Diallo, Kansas coach Bill Self said after Saturday’s victory over TCU.
Traylor, a senior forward, absorbed the arm to the face in the second half of the 70-63 win. He left the game and did not return.
“No concussion, but his eye is swollen shut,” Self said. “Cheick got him pretty good, but the initial reports are he should be fine. But he’s with an eye specialist, and they will double-check to make sure there’s no fracture, which we don’t anticipate.”
…Self said junior wing Brannen Greene, who played 10 minutes on Saturday, was bothered by a nagging hip injury. It is not the same hip that Greene had operated on during the offseason, and Self said he did not believe it to be serious.
…Kansas extended its home-court winning streak to 33 games, which is tied for the fourth longest in school history. Self improved to 199-9 at Allen Fieldhouse. He will have an opportunity to win his 200th game in the building this Saturday against Texas.
“Let’s make this really quick,’’ the KU coach said to begin his postgame remarks. “Not much crap to talk about.’’
Maybe the game met expectations coming off the triple-overtime thriller KU pulled out against Oklahoma the last time the barn was brimming.
But not for Self. He wanted his team to exert more energy coming off a loss at West Virginia. That night, the Mountaineers’ press exhausted the Jayhawks from the outset.
In response, Self thought his team would bounce back with some fire against TCU. Instead, they went through the motions — especially at the end when a 19-point lead slipped to the final margin of seven.
Good thing the opponent was TCU.
“I’m kind of struggling with it,’’ said Self, “because I don’t think we’re playing with near as much energy as we did a week ago. We’ve talked a lot about it — not from a punishment standpoint, but what was wrong. ...
“We didn’t give it a chance (at WVU), because our energy level was slow. I thought today was very similar. We didn’t give anything for the crowd to get excited about it.’’
…Indeed, the win seemed far from memorable ... unless it was the day Diallo and Bragg began providing a bigger contribution for the Jayhawks.
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Free throws, man. Free throws: With 9:35 to go, Oklahoma was in the double bonus and Ryan Spangler was at the free throw line, where the Sooners spent a chunk of the afternoon. How did a squad that was shooting just 33 percent with 3:43 to go stay alive against a team like West Virginia? The Sooners made 27 of their 32 free throws. They can thank West Virginia for its 27 fouls (the drawback of that intense press). West Virginia made 13-of-22 at the charity stripe. This was a physical matchup between two elite teams that were sloppy throughout the game. But Oklahoma capitalized on its opportunities at the free throw line, the most significant factor in Saturday’s win.
West Virginia’s Jaysean Paige added his name to the list of junior college players to thrive under Bob Huggins. The 6-foot-2 senior guard has averaged 18.8 points in the Mountaineers’ last seven games and is second on the team with a 13.7 scoring average.
Paige has started only one game this season, but he’s one of the best reserves in the nation. He came off the bench for a game-high 18 points -- even outscoring Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield -- as the Mountaineers fell just short in a 70-68 loss to the Sooners.
Paige scored a career-high 26 points to lead the Mountaineers’ 74-63 upset of No. 1 Kansas. He entered the game just a 63 percent free throw shooter, but made 14 of his 17 attempts. To put that in perspective, he had attempted only 47 free throws combined in the 15 games prior.
…Hilton Coliseum. Ames, Iowa. Did Baylor erase all the “Hilton Magic” in its 94-89 win at Iowa State or did that simply mean the Bears are the only team that seems to have immunity. The Cyclones welcome No. 2 -- and soon to be No. 1 -- Oklahoma to town on Monday. Baylor is the only team in the Cyclones’ past 33 games at home to beat them and it happened twice.
While the Sooners are deserving of the No. 1 spot in the polls, they haven’t exactly been dominant. OU eked out a pair of two-point wins this past week over Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Iowa State players believe they should have won the first meeting with OU on Jan. 2. The Cyclones led for most of the second half before falling behind. Guard Monte Morris had a chance to tie the game but missed a runner in the lane with 5 seconds left. In the comfy confines of Hilton, the Cyclones will be confident from the tip.
…The only thing to be excited about for Clemson basketball fans entering ACC play was that their football team was in the College Football Playoff.
Crowds in their temporary home in Greenville, South Carolina, where they will play while Littlejohn Coliseum undergoes a $63 million renovation, hovered around 6,000. The only exception was a capacity crowd for the Tigers' rivalry game against South Carolina.
The Tigers had not, in seven nonconference wins, beaten a team with a winning record. And two of their losses came to teams (Massachusetts and Minnesota) that currently have losing records.
In spite of all that, Clemson coach Brad Brownell never lost his team. And now the Tigers are making believers out of everyone else after the week he just guided them through.
Clemson revealed its winning numbers with victories over No. 16 Louisville (66-62), No. 9 Duke (68-63) and No. 8 Miami (76-65) -- the first time in program history it’s had three consecutive wins over ranked teams.
Kentucky’s 75-70 loss at Auburn (No. 162 in KenPom.com’s rankings) -- in basketball, not football -- on Saturday confirmed three things.
- Kareem Canty (26 points) deserves more attention.
- Kentucky ain’t Kentucky right now.
- We have more questions than answers in college basketball at this point in the season.
…Please save that “Everyone wants to beat Kentucky so they bring their A game” stuff. Maybe that’s true. There was time when everyone couldn’t beat Kentucky even if they brought their A games.
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“I want to go to a school I can dominate at, and I want to be the guy in paint for that school,” Azubuike said. “Relationships matter too, once I go to the league (NBA) or graduate I want still have that bond.”
Sunday, 3pm Central - Live Stream Udoka Azubuike & Potter’s House at HoopHall Classic
At 4:00 p.m., Westtown (PA) will play Potter's House (FL). Westtown's focal point: the No. 8 player in the 2017 class Mohamed Bamba, a highly talented power forward with an absurd 7-foot-8 wingspan. He'll face 6-foot-11, 270-pound center Udoka Azubuike, the No. 22 player in the class of 2016 who compares his own game to Shaquille O'Neal.
“It was a great experience. That venue is ridiculous,” said Porter, who previously visited Allen Fieldhouse for its annual Late Night in the Phog. “Just the way Coach Self has them play really hard all the time and the way he runs that program is something that’s cool to me.”
…Self returned the favor late Saturday, planted on the wooden seats inside Johnson County Community College to watch Porter play.
Some highlights there.
Porter threw down four dunks and scored 34 points in Tolton's 58-53 win against Blue Valley Northwest. In one play, Porter passed the ball off the backboard to himself and threw down a two-handed jam. A couple of minutes later in the third quarter, he opted for a reverse dunk on a fastbreak.
Porter hopes to return to Lawrence later this month to watch the Jayhawks play Kentucky. Visits to other schools will be scheduled, too. The ultimate determination will come before his senior season begins. That’s the plan, anyway.
There's a moment before many Hoophall Classic games when the Blake Arena stands rumble with anticipation, as fans watch the tallest, strongest, bounciest young athletes in the country and dream about what they could someday become.
Thon Maker, perhaps more than any other athlete, generated that rumble on Saturday.
…Maker swatted away four shots in the first five minutes on Saturday and finished with nine for the game. While Findlay Prep began adjusting their offensive attack in ways that counteracted Maker's rim protection, he still showcased a strong sense of where to be and — perhaps more importantly — when to jump. Maker's timing was spectacular against the Pilots.
"That has been part of his progression, for sure," Lesovsky said. "He's a lot more sure of himself. He knows he can take it, and that's a big part of it mentally. But also, he watches so much film and so many games, he's picking up where he's supposed to be pretty much every time."
…Where that future takes Maker is still unclear. After reclassifying to 2015, and then reclassifying again to 2016 so he could play with his brother Matur for another year, Maker still hasn't committed to a college. He can do a little bit of everything, and he will clearly benefit from having more talented teammates preventing opponents from throwing everything short of the Gatorade cooler at him defensively, but his positional fluidity at the offensive end makes him a complicated player.
For now, though, that ambiguous complexity is part of what makes watching Maker so much fun. He still makes the stands rumble in layup lines, and he still draws wild comparisons. That's a fun stage — one we shouldn't move past too quickly.
Maker, who transferred to Canada before last season, finished just two rebounds shy of a triple double. He scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked 10 shots.
Considered to be one of the top players in the 2016 NCAA recruiting class, Maker is coveted by a number of NCAA programs. So far, the seven-foot-one Australian forward/centre says he looking at Kansas, Notre Dame, St. John’s, Indiana, UNLV and Arizona State.
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